Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Random Kid, Both Flesh and Not

“Velocity’s just one part of it. Now we’re getting technical. Tennis is often called a “game of inches,” but the cliché is mostly referring to where a shot lands. In terms of a player’s hitting an incoming ball, tennis is actually more a game of micrometers: vanishingly tiny changes around the moment of impact will have large effects on how and where the ball travels. The same principle explains why even the smallest imprecision in aiming a rifle will still cause a miss if the target’s far enough away.

By way of illustration, let’s slow things way down. Imagine that you, a tennis player, are standing just behind your deuce corner’s baseline. A ball is served to your forehand — you pivot (or rotate) so that your side is to the ball’s incoming path and start to take your racket back for the forehand return. Keep visualizing up to where you’re about halfway into the stroke’s forward motion; the incoming ball is now just off your front hip, maybe six inches from point of impact. Consider some of the variables involved here. On the vertical plane, angling your racket face just a couple degrees forward or back will create topspin or slice, respectively; keeping it perpendicular will produce a flat, spinless drive. Horizontally, adjusting the racket face ever so slightly to the left or right, and hitting the ball maybe a millisecond early or late, will result in a cross-court versus down-the-line return. Further slight changes in the curves of your groundstroke’s motion and follow-through will help determine how high your return passes over the net, which, together with the speed at which you’re swinging (along with certain characteristics of the spin you impart), will affect how deep or shallow in the opponent’s court your return lands, how high it bounces, etc. These are just the broadest distinctions, of course — like, there’s heavy topspin vs. light topspin, or sharply cross-court vs. only slightly cross-court, etc. There are also the issues of how close you’re allowing the ball to get to your body, what grip you’re using, the extent to which your knees are bent and/or weight’s moving forward, and whether you’re able simultaneously to watch the ball and to see what your opponent’s doing after he serves. These all matter, too. Plus there’s the fact that you’re not putting a static object into motion here but rather reversing the flight and (to a varying extent) spin of a projectile coming toward you — coming, in the case of pro tennis, at speeds that make conscious thought impossible. Mario Ancic’s first serve, for instance, often comes in around 130 m.p.h. Since it’s 78 feet from Ancic’s baseline to yours, that means it takes 0.41 seconds for his serve to reach you.(9) This is less than the time it takes to blink quickly, twice.” – DFW,”Federer, Both Flesh and Not”

Pace and Spin

There are certain essays that I keep coming back to time and again. I’m not usually one to reread novels or short stories, but I have a stable of essays that I read yearly, if not more often. I reread them to savor the text, but also to glean more of what they have to teach. I read them both as devotion and as education.

It will surprise no one who knows me that many of these recurrent essays are by David Foster Wallace.

One of them is his 2006 essay, “Federer Both Flesh and Not”. On the surface, it’s about Federer’s win at the 2006 Wimbledon Men’s tournament. It’s also about beauty, experience, and the impossibility of understanding ourselves or others. It’s the closest I’ve read in a long time to an operative proof of the divine.

More concretely, the essay is a wonderful crash course in many things, of which these five struck me most keenly on my most recent re-reading.

First is Tennis. Despite being the subject of the essay, though, Tennis is both the least interesting and least important thing about it.

Second is how to appreciate the beauty in a thing you may not, yourself, even really like. Despite two ill-fated years in Tennis myself in High School, I can’t claim to be a fan of the sport. But Wallace speaks with such glowing grace about Federer’s skill and strategy that one can’t help but marvel at the beauty of the man’s game. If you don’t like sports, this essay probably won’t change your mind, but it might make you more tolerant of those that do. It can, if nothing else, give incandescent expression to the passion they possess, but you lack. Wallace, here, plays the role of the fiery Baptist preacher, hypnotizing even the unbeliever.

Third is how to craft an impeccable essay from the materials at hand. Every word, notion, comment, and footnote is in exactly the right place. Even seemingly cast aside details turn out to be of critical importance. And in the end, even the oblique commentary about the sick child flipping a coin to decide first serve ends up driving home the critical point.

Fourth, it is the single finest lesson in phenomenology available. No essay articulates the role and scope of human experience in our daily lives better than this. Being and Time might be a brilliant work, but a careful study of “Federer Both Flesh and Not” is almost as complete, equally as true, and vastly more compelling. Wallace’s discussion of three perspectives of pace alone is worth the first three weeks of any graduate seminar on the topic. Wallace’s description of Federer’s effortless drives and unconscious, intuitive play; his exegesis on the micrometer, microsecond decisions that go into making the right shot; and his thorough analysis of the experience of a hissing power drive, do more than two hundred pages of Husserl or Heidegger to tell you about the singular importance of perception.

Finally, Wallace’s awe at the being of light that is Federer well encapsulates the majesty of the rare mutant creatures that mankind sometimes produces. Federer is a species unto himself, just as Paul Erdős, Hunter S Thompson, or Juan Manuel Fangio were. Just as, in his own tragic way, David Foster Wallace was. The capstone of the essays sets Federer off against poor little William Caines, the coin tosser and survivor of liver cancer. This dichotomy neatly sums an ontology, metaphysics, and theosophy that underlies the rest of the essay. Namely, whatever you think of God, he created both cancer-wracked little boys, and the flesh-and-light glory of Roger Federer.

In a way, that dichotomy could only have been articulated by someone like Wallace. Someone who, we would come to learn two years later, lamentably embodied both extremes.

David Foster Wallace on Ambition, Perfectionism, and Confronting One’s Limits

Danny MacAskill, “Imaginate”

Ladies and Gentlemen, Danny fookin’ MacAskill.

And a ridiculously awesome new urban sport was born…

A Frenchmen tries to race a subway train between two adjacent stops.

I’ve often wondered about this in London. Some of the tube stops in London are close enough together that it’s possible to leisurely stroll from one to another more quickly than going by tube, so clearly this is a game that can be played on easy mode. But this anonymous Frenchman’s inaugural run shows that there are some challenging, but possible, courses in this exciting new urban sport.

Insane Isle of Man TT Footage

A Trip from Edinburgh to Skye

Excellent music, beautiful scenery, and a healthy disregard for physics.

(h/t my friend Ann)


Sorry Sounders. Can’t win ’em all. In fact, in some of them, you can’t even score.

Congrats to Rooney on the hat trick, though.

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.